Notes on Medieval Flegg and Broadland, in Norfolk, East Anglia.

Above image copyright of openstreetmap.org.  Modified to show local districts of Broadland and Flegg.

Flegg is a district of two hundreds, consisting of a total of 22 parishes, set in Broadland, in the east of the East Anglian county of Norfolk.  It is thought that with the higher sea levels of the Roman period, that it would have effectively have formed  an island bordered by reed beds, marshes, river valleys on the west and south, and the North Sea in the east.  As sea levels decreased slightly during the Anglo-Saxon period, and drainage systems advanced, so Flegg became better connected to the "mainland".

Roman East Norfolk showing Flegg as an island:

The name "Flegg" is Anglo-Danish in origin, as are many of it's parish names such as Ormesby, Rollesby, Hemsby, Stokesby, Filby, Scratby, Mautby, Thrigby, Billockby etc.  No other district in East Anglia, a region that formed a part of the 10th Century Dane-Law has such a concentration of Scandinavian place-names.

In this post I want to record some transcriptions taken from some studies in my book collection, that relate to Flegg, or to the wider area of Broadland (East Norfolk), during the earlier Medieval period.

The Origins of Norfolk.  Tom Williamson 1993.  Manchester University Press.  ISBN 0 7190 3928

Topography and environment.

"But there are also districts of deep, extremely fertile and easily worked loams, especially on the former island of Flegg.  The whole area is dissected by the wide lush valleys of the Wensum, Bure, Ant, and their tributaries.  The medieval settlement pattern was dispersed, with common-edge hamlets and many isolated churches."

The Norfolk Broads - A landscape history.  Tom Williamson.  1997.  Manchester University Press ISBN 0 7190 4801.

The uplands and islands.

"The Broadland fens and marshes are nowhere so extensive that the traveller loses sight of the 'upland'.  Even in the middle of the Halvergate marshes the higher ground can be seen, low on the horizon, often picked out by the lines of woodland growing on the relict 'cliffs' of the former estuary.  Some of the higher land once comprised islands: Flegg covering some 78 sq km, between the Bure and the Thurne.".
The Anglo Saxon

"During Middle Saxon times - roughly the period between the mid-seventh and late ninth centuries - the local population probably increased once again, and more complex forms of social and economic organisation developed.  The Broads area became a part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia, which was roughly coterminous with the modern counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.  It is possible that the uplands here were more densely wooded than most parts of Norfolk at this time, in spite of the excellence of much of the local soil.  Certainly, many place-names in the area seem to refer to woodland: Acle for example was the ac leah, the oak wood; Fishley, 'the wood of the fisherman'; while both East Ruston and Sco Ruston incorporated the term hris tun, 'the settlement among the brushwood'.  It is possible that, remote from the main centres of power in East Anglia, and exposed to the threat of continued sea-borne raiding, the district was relatively sparsely settled, principally used for grazing.  The importance of the latter in the local economy is again suggested by place-names: Horsey was 'the horse island'; Woodbastwick and Bastwick both incorporate the element wic, 'a grazing farm, ranch'; while the names of Winterton and Somerton - the winter settlement and the summer settlement respectively - suggest the practice of transhumance, the seasonal movement of livestock to distant pastures.  Extensive areas of seasonal grazing must have been opening up in the form of low-lying fens and marshes as the estuaries here began to silt up.  The role of Broadland as an area specialising in grazing and the exploitation of woodland - complementing the arable specialisms of other parts of the East Anglian kingdom - is also perhaps indicated by a particularly noticeable feature of the area at the end of the Saxon period.  Domesday book shows that a very large proportion of the population here was classed not as bondmen - as villeins, sokemen or bordars - but as free men, liberi homines.  Such individuals were very thick on the ground both in Flegg, and on the uplands bordering the south of Broadland, and the power of manorial lords in these areas was correspondingly circumscribed.  There are many views on the nature, and significance of such men: but one interpretation is that they were the descendants of Middle Saxon peasants whose main role had been that of herdsmen or shepherds, and whose obligations to king and nobles were thus less servile or onerous than those of arable producers."

"Elsewhere in Norfolk and Suffolk free men were more thinly spread, although they were almost everywhere a more prominent feature than in other areas of England.  Like other distinctive aspects of East Anglia's social and tenurial structure, they are often interpreted as a consequence of the settlement here, during the ninth and tenth centuries, of immigrants from Scandinavia.  While in reality, the origins of Norfolk and Suffolk's medieval idiosyncrasies are much more complex than this, a Viking elite clearly did come to dominate the East Anglian kingdom around 869 when, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 'The host went from Cirencester into East Anglia, and occupy that land, and share it out.'

In restricted areas there also appears to have been large-scale peasant immigration from Scandinavia.  One of these was Broadland.  Viking place-names - especially those featuring the suffix -by, 'farm, settlement' - are densely clustered on the island of Flegg (a name itself derived from a Scandinavian word meaning reeds), widespread in Lothingland, and scattered more thinly along the upland margins of the Yare and Waveney."

"Whatever the nature (and extent) of Viking settlement in the area, there is no doubt that by the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 the upland parts of Broadland were no longer a sparsely-settled landscape of woodland and pasture.  They were now - together with the neighbouring clayland areas to the south and west - one of the most densely settled and intensively farmed regions in the whole of England.".

The Middle Ages

"The region's dense population, and complex social structure, are manifested in another way: in the small sizes of parishes, and thus in the large number of parish churches.  Indeed the upland areas of Broadland have one of the highest densities of parish churches in Britain.  Many of these (although not the present structures) were already in existence by the time of Domesday: their proliferation reflects not only the comparative wealth of this fertile region, and the need to house large congregations, but also perhaps the confused tenurial structure of the locality.  Families of freemen may have been keen to endow churches in order to establish their status: church-building was the mark of the lord, rather than the peasant."

"In East Anglia, in contrast [sic to the classic "great open fields" elsewhere in medieval English parishes - PB] medieval agricultural systems were much more flexible and individualistic: seldom were the strips widely scattered across two or three great 'fields' but were instead more closely clustered in the vicinity of the peasant's homestead, and individual farmers had more freedom of choice about what they grew and when.  In the west of Norfolk, such freedoms were somewhat limited by the institution of the 'fold course' - the right of the manorial lord to graze sheep across the tenants' land for much of the year.  In Broadland however - where the power of manorial lords was more circumscribed - fold courses were rare and tenants enjoyed almost complete freedom over how they organised their cropping, and rights of grazing over others' land were often limited to the period after the harvest."

Medieval Flegg.  Two Norfolk Hundreds in the Middle Ages East and West Flegg, 1086 - 1500.  Barbara Cornford.  2002. Larks Press.  ISBN 0 948400 98 6

p14. "Until recently the A149 road from North Walsham crossed the river Thurne by the medieval bridge at Potter Heigham"


p 16. "Flegg farmers have always distinguished between the upland and the marsh (The upland in Flegg is all land over five feet above sea level)."

p20. "Yarmouth has always been the market town and urban centre for Flegg.  In the Middle Ages corn from Flegg fed the town.  For centuries Flegg farmers and small-holders have sold their livestock, vegetables and fruit at the Wednesday and Saturday markets."

p22. "The Danish settlement of East Anglia began after 880 AD, when, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Danes occupied the land and shared it out.  They must have come to Flegg in considerable numbers for they gave names to thirteen out of twenty-two villages in Flegg."

p22 "The name Stokesby, which is Saxon in its first element and Danish in its second, is an interesting one.  Not only does it suggest the mingling of the two groups, but it may also explain why the Danes found the Muck Fleet valley virtually empty.  The Saxon word 'stoc', pronounced with a long 'o', was used to describe an 'outlying pasture near water where cattle are kept for part of the year'.  If this is true of Stokesby, then the Danes may well have found only cattle-minders in the valley, with perhaps small and scattered settlements around the heath to the west."

p23. "Most of the Danish village names in Flegg incorporate a personal name, such as Orm (Ormesby), Malti (Mautby), or Hrodulfr (Rollesby).  Dr Sandred believes that these are the names, not of warrior chiefs, but of free farmers, more interested in acquiring land than pillage and warfare."

p24-25. "Danish words have survived in Flegg as they have generally in Norfolk.  Holme means an island and is applied to an area of dry ground in the marsh, often a gravel bank.  Winterton and Somerton Holmes are sufficiently well drained to be ploughed and contain farms.  Medieval field-names include 'gate' for a road, 'wong' for a furlong or collection of strips in the open fields and the 'syk', a marshy strip of land by a stream.  These words are still used.  Ferrygate and Damgate are roads in Martham, villagers go 'over the wongs' from the church to the hamlet of Cess, or through the 'syk' meadow, marshy ground, which was once a navigable stream, marking the boundary between Martham and Bastwick.  One Danish name has vanished.  The hamlet of Sco, mentioned in the Domesday survey, lay where Martham, Bastwick, and Rollesby meet around the present Grange Farm (OS TG 437 172), but Sco never became an ecclesiastical or civil parish.  The word is Danish, from skogre, a wood, and is appropriate for a settlement at the bottom of Speech Oak Hill."

Chapter 2.  Flegg in the Time of the Domesday Book

p29-30. "A few words of explanation are needed about the terms used in the extract.  The hide was a Saxon measurement of land, which notionally contained 120 acres.  In Norfolk, the Danish word carucate, also 120 acres, was used instead of hide.  The carucates and acres recorded are not very accurate measurements but they give a rough idea of the size of a manor dmesne ir a freeman's farm.  The demesne was the home farm of a manor and its produce went to the lord of the manor for his use.  Villeins and cottars, or bordars as they are called in Norfolk, were attached to the manors and provided much of the labour force on the demesne.  Serfs, possibly slaves, were present in small numbers on a few manors.  Freemen and sokemen were always regarded as free tenants.  The number of ploughs is always recorded on manors and on the freemen's and sokemen's holdings.  The word 'plough' includes a team of eight oxen."

p31. "The two Flegg Hundreds, along with others in East and South Norfolk, were the most densely populated in the county.  The freemen, villeins and other tenants were heads of households with dependant families.  I was surprised to see how close the number of Domesday households were to returns from the first Census of 1801.  Many readers will have some idea of what life was like in Norfolk two hundred years ago in the days of Nelson, Parson Woodeford and the Agricultural Improvers.  It is important to remember that Norfolk was probably as busy a place in the late eleventh century, as it was several hundred years later."

"Over two thirds of the inhabitants of Flegg were freemen and sokemen, that is men and women of free status, but it is not always easy to define their position in society.  Sokemen are almost always attached to manors and on some manors had specific services to render to their lords.  On manors belonging to St Benet's Abbey they were often employed as ploughmen.  In theory at least, freemen were free of all feudal control, but most had commended themselves to a powerful lord in order to gain protection.  These freemen, in commendations only, as Domesday says, had minimal obligations to their lords.  They could sell their land, often without even consulting the lord.  They had the right to attend the Hundred Court and to take part in its deliberations.

Freemen and sokemen were numerous all over Eastern England, their numbers declining towards the west.  Historians have thought that it was a Danish origin or influence which enabled the freemen to maintain their independence from feudal pressures.  A more likely cause is now thought to have been the general economic prosperity of eastern England that helped the freemen to withstand the pressures of the feudal lords."

p33."Villeins and bordars account for only a third of the tenants.  Whatever their exact legal status, they were certainly under close control of their manors on which they lived and where they provided most of the labour on the demesnes.  They had their own farms, but the size of their holdings is nor recorded.  A  hundred years later the usual villain holding in Martham was about twelve acres, but there were wide variations.  Bordars had smaller holdings, perhaps about five acres.  Bordars are particularly numerous in west Flegg where the small manors sometimes relied entirely on them for labour.  Only twelve serfs are recorded in Flegg."

p36. "Corn was not the only valuable commodity produced in Flegg.  Both salt production and sheep farming brought in extra income.  The spring tides up the river Bure flooded pools in the estuary with salt water that gradually evaporated in the summer sun and wind.  The resulting brine was taken to earthenware pans on the marsh edge where the brine was heated until the salt crystallised.  At the time of Domesday, Flegg was the centre of salt production in East Norfolk."

p53. "In the twelfth century the introduction of windmills gave the landlords other sources of income.  By 1200 windmills at Herringby and Rollesby had been recorded and by 1300 windmills were common in all Flegg villages.  At the same time the use of horses for ploughing meant that the lords were less dependent on the ox-drawn ploughs of their freemen and sokemen to cultivate the demesne.  By 1245 ploughing was done by horses on the Abbot of St Benet's manor of Ashby and no doubt on most other manors."

p91. "At Martham, as was usual in East Norfolk, a tenant's holding was not a block of land, but a collection of strips in the open fields, usually in the fields nearest to the tenant's home, although some holdings were scattered more widely in the village."

p138. "The Black Death arrived in Norfolk in the spring of 1349 and spread up the river valleys from Yarmouth.  It was particularly severe in South Norfolk, along the Yare and the Bure valleys and on the coast."

p139. "The Inquisition Post Mortem taken after the death of Thomas de Essex in 1351 for his manor of Runham states that all the tenants were dead.".

p144. "It is surprising that Flemings left the Low Countries to work in England after the Black Death.  Flemings were employed in many places in East Norfolk in the 1350s.  In 1355 a Fleming was hired to cut and harvest five acres of wheat in Martham for which he was paid 3s. 4d.  This separate entry suggests that perhaps he worked away from the other harvesters.  The next year a Fleming was employed for eleven days to thresh seven quarters of wheat at 3d. a quarter, which is considerably less than the usual rate of 5d. a quarter.  I have found Flemings mentioned at Rollesby, Ashby, and Scottow.  St Benet's Abbey employed twelve Flemings for the harvest of 1356.  Perhaps these men went round in a gang hiring themselves wherever they were needed.  It is difficult to understand why they came across the North Sea to seek farm work.  It has been suggested that the Black Death did not claim so many lives in the Low Countries where the standard of living was higher and resistance to the disease greater than in most of Europe."

I'm stopping there.  I could take it through the Peasant's Rebellion and the Late Medieval.  I highly recommend Barbara Cornford's little book.  She in particular, has dissected the manorial records of Martham, Norfolk.  She successfully brings the Medieval in that manor to life.  Not so alien.  People were still clearly very much people as we know them.

Summary

On a personal, genealogical level, I have many, many Broadland ancestors on my mother's side recorded over the past 400 years or so.  However, their main cluster area was immediately to the south of Flegg, along the Yare valley in Broadland.  But tracing back - some of the lines there had moved down from the general region of Flegg - Moulton St Mary, Acle, South Walsham, Stokesby, Repps-with-Bastwick, Herringby, Rollesby, Ormesby, etc.  Therefore on a personal level, I've enjoyed researching this history, as I most likely had many ancestors on Flegg a few centuries earlier, during the Later Medieval at least.

I don't have very many photographs taken on Flegg.  Once I've completed the Wherryman's Way long distance trail, I need to explore the churches and landscape of Flegg.

On a Population Genetics Level - 3 points.

  1. The 1348 Black Death.  It killed a lot of families.  At least one third of the population died, in addition to a famine and hard times that preceded the disease for several years before the outbreak.
  2. Once again, I find evidence of admixture in East Anglia, from the Low Countries.  The long term link across the North Sea to the Lower Rhine Valley.
  3. Movement during the 15th Century.  As Feudalism gradually collapsed over the 150 years following the Black Death, more and more people started to move around England - away from their ancient manors and parishes.  Cornfield noted three brothers from Martham during the 15th Century.  One ended up in Ely, Cambridgeshire, another in Halesworth, Suffolk, and the third in London.  Should any of the brothers had returned to the manor they would have owed money to their lord.  They didn't, people were moving around by then.

Flegg doesn't yet have a great landscape history of the Late Prehistoric.  It does have an importance during the Romano-British, with the Fort of Caister etc.  The current story picks up during the Middle Saxon, where we currently get the impression that this last wild landscape of East Anglia was picked up - vulnerable to sea raiders.  It's natural resources at first exploited for woodland materials, then more so as grazing land and pasture.  It's almost bizarre concentration of Danish place-names and words from the Late Saxon period.  I cannot think other than that an Old Danish-speaking people - at the very least, a significant immigration, settled here, and finally founded villages and farmsteads with names.  It's not the traditional story of raiding, marauding Vikings, but of the immigration of farmers.

By Domesday it's full of people and production.  A centre, an agrarian hub.  The imposition of feudal pressure by Norman lords being resisted for centuries by local freemen farmers.  They say that Norfolk does different.  Flegg certainly did, with it's proto-capitalism and relatively (to the West Midlands for example) free labour markets.

Worth recording and appreciating.

Thurne Mill.

Medieval Mobility, DNA tests, and the East Anglian

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter c1325-1335 f74v - BL Add MS 42130

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v  See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].

My last post on the Norfolk 16th century surname study has made me look at my medieval East Anglian roots a little differently.  It suggests that there may have been a fair amount of mobility and migration in East Anglia, and from outside, from both Northern England, and from the nearby Continent.  Although current commercial autosomal DNA tests for ancestry are clearly contradictory, behind them lays a common pattern.  My auDNA is little bit more similar to people living on the Continent, in places like France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and also further to the south - than it is for most British testers.  This is despite my known English family history and recorded ancestry.  These commercial DNA tests usually claim to investigate your family ancestry over the past 250 - 500 years only.  I'm convinced that is untrue.  I can't help but see population background, and shared patterns from testers that have no known, or little known migration or admixture in places such as England, and Northern France.  These appear to represent older migration and population admixture events that are shared across local genomes.

However, maybe there is something that these tests are telling me - but only after taking into account to the results of other British testers.  I now believe that I may have underestimated mobility around East Anglia and England between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries - that precedes any of my recorded ancestry.  I also feel the need to reassess Continental migration to East Anglia.  It appears it was not all urban or bourgeois.  The Anglo-Saxon fifth century AD may have marked the most significant migration event to south east Britain, but I know believe that I have underestimated how much migration and exchange has occurred across the North Sea ever since.

Focusing first on movements within East Anglia, and England, I have in my last post,  Norfolk surnames in the sixteenth century, provided locative surname evidence.

Let's look at some more historical research.

"Considerable personal mobility existed from the later Middle Ages.  From the mid fourteenth century the loosening of seigneurial bonds allowed English people to become even more mobile.  Landlords complained that tenants were deserting their holdings for better land elsewhere and that servants and labourers were seeking higher wages from other employers.".

"From the sixteenth century, migration and personal mobility becomes better documented.  A study of tax records for Towcester in Northamptonshire showed a considerable turnover of the population between consecutive years.  In 1525 47 of the 278 men taxed in the previous year had left.  This unusually full source shows that six of the 47 had died and 41 had migrated.  This represents a turnover rate of 16.9 per cent a year - higher than any other communities in pre-industrial England.".

The continuity (and discontinuity) of surnames over a period of time indicates the movement of individuals and families with the same surname in and out of the community.  The small 'close' village of Glynde (population 216 in the 1801 census) lies three miles from the East Sussex county town of Lewes.  Between 1558 and 1812 out of 444 different surnames that appeared in the parish register (excluding people whose only connection with the village was to marry in its church) 261 surnames (58.8 per cent) occurred only once and 71 per cent were found only during a period of 25 years or less.".

Source: The English Rural Community: Image and Analysis. Brian short. 1992.

So, maybe I need to discard ideas of my mother's tight cluster of recorded ancestry as having been so localised for so long.  Although, the density of the cluster does suggest that she probably have some direct ancestry in the Reedham area of East Norfolk for a very long time, perhaps back to the early medieval, there is also a good probability that her medieval ancestry stretched much further across the region, England, and to the Continent.  Indeed, her known ancestral proximity to the coast and a tidal navigable river makes that Continental ancestry more likely.  For my father's ancestry - the majority recorded East Anglian, but with known ancestry going back to Oxfordshire, Berkshire, London, and the East Midlands, this might be even more the case.